When Muna Mohamed was younger, all her goals revolved around playing basketball. It was an easy way to make friends, connect with people, and build a community. However, there was one issue: As most basketball leagues at that time didn’t allow women to wear the hijab while playing, Mohamed would often find herself sitting on the bench. This continual frustration inspired her to become a youth basketball coach for her community and, later on, the founder of her activewear brand, Kalsoni.
As a youth basketball coach, Mohamed wanted to empower girls to play basketball regardless of where they came from and, most importantly, to embrace and wear their hijab proudly. Her interest in advocating for more inclusion in sports, regardless of religion or culture, became an initial steppingstone for her brand.
This interest peaked at Augsburg University, where Mohamed participated in an undergraduate research project that proved clothing was the number one barrier why East Asian Muslimas weren’t physically active or participating in sports. Her interest grew when she became involved with a University of Minnesota project that encouraged young women to design their own activewear. These experiences provided her with the encouragement to let her creativity flow.
Her first design project was to create a modest uniform for her team. She then drafted a business plan and started pitching in competitions where entrepreneurs competed for funding. However, Mohamed found that these competitions weren’t a good fit for her ideas, because her audience didn’t usually include people who could see a direct benefit from her product line. “If investors looked like me or my community or even understood the problem, I think the results would have been different,” she said.
Training at Target
Mohamed shifted her focus to grants and incubator programs, specifically through Target. “They selected ten businesses to work with, from clothing and food to baby products, and they taught us so much — concepts such as marketing and sales strategies, how to build a business, social media techniques and other important skills.” Mohamed and her fellow members graduated by crafting and presenting a pitch.
She continued learning and wasn’t afraid to edit her business plan. “I wanted to make sure I know how to build a business, as well as find the best fabric for hijabs and tops. I wanted to ensure that I provide the best quality clothing for women,” she added. In the beginning of 2022, Mohamed launched Kalsoni.
In Somali, Kalsoni means confidence. “I wanted to ensure that any woman who wants to dress modestly while being active should feel confident about what she’s wearing,” Mohamed said. While she built Kalsoni to create modest activewear for Muslimas, her customer demographic evolved as women from diverse backgrounds began looking for more modest clothing while being physically active or traveling. Kalsoni products are now being shipped to Canada, Norway, and Africa.
Eventually, Mohamed joined a program through REI, a retail and outdoor recreation store, and was able to display her products in two of their Minneapolis locations. “That opportunity of building relationships with major retailers took Kalsoni to the next step in showcasing that we don’t have to go shopping at the men’s section,” Mohamed said. “Folks didn’t have to shop online and wait for their orders to be delivered.”
The Kalsoni Vision
As Kalsoni continues to grow and reach new customers, Mohamed hopes to exhibit her products in more stores outside of Minnesota.
“Alhamdulillah, I’m really lucky that in our Somali community that when one sister wins, we all win,” she said. “My goal is to be able to spread out the production and bring it over to different states and countries so that it’s easily accessible.” She also hopes to not only build collections, but also experiences.
To carry that vision forward, Mohamed now closely works with Girls on the Run, a national nonprofit that combines exercise and education to promote healthy lifestyles for young girls. She provides sports hijabs for girls running the annual Girls on the Run 5K. “I want to continue building relationships with organizations that work with Muslim athletes and strengthen partnerships with schools, nonprofits, and sports organizations,” she said.
Through clothing, Mohamed hopes to connect women from all over the world. “I want to be of service to people and bring together a community of women, not only Muslim women but all women in a space where they can be comfortable with one other.”
Sanaa Asif, a student at Hinsdale Central High School, is an avid reader and loves to learn about other people’s stories.